The Steilacoom linebacker used a highlight video, social media plus a work ethic to help gain attention from major colleges before settling on the Ducks.

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STEILACOOM – Big, bone-crushing hits weren’t enough for Steilacoom’s Fotu T. Leiato II to garner attention. He needed to become a big hit.

His highlight video on, a website where football teams upload game film, was the key.

It starts on a kickoff. Leiato, a linebacker, is deep in the Sentinels’ territory in a game against River Ridge High School. Steilacoom gets the ball and Leiato takes off, looking for someone to hit. He runs up the middle then throws his shoulder into an opposing player and barrel-rolls over him to break his own fall.

Leiato by the numbers

593,000 Page views his highlight video on had gotten as of Friday night.

188 Tackles, 34.5 for losses, in three years as a varsity player.

“The coach from River Ridge said I was a sniper,” says Leiato, a 17-year-old who has long curly black hair, a really innocent smile and speaks with a welcoming drawl. “Sniper, I like that.”

This is the highlight video that got him the attention he needed, the one that went from 8,000 views to 100,000 in 24 hours, the one that had major Division I coaches flocking to his doorstep to recruit the senior.

This is the highlight video that led to his commitment to Oregon.

But the steps to get here, of raising Leiato’s profile to the point of going viral, took some calculated steps from the 6-foot, 195-pound Leiato and his coaches at Steilacoom, a Class 2A program in a town outside Tacoma.

“This isn’t a result of him playing any differently,” says William Garrow, the defensive coordinator at Steilacoom until February. “He’s a great football player, and he was a great player a year ago. He just needed someone to take an opportunity to look closely and see what we saw in him.”

Social-media savvy

In 2012, Garrow and assistant coach Michael Martin asked then-head coach Brian Koch about starting a Twitter account for the football program.

Garrow and Martin thought it was a good way to keep an eye on the players – most of them had Twitter accounts – and to also get the word out about Steilacoom’s football program.

A year later, the Steilacoom coaches noticed how college programs were utilizing Twitter as a recruiting tool. And Garrow thought his team had a few kids that could play in college.

“(But) there was this belief that somehow, the high school you went to was the reason you could play in college. In my opinion, that’s garbage,” Garrow said. “If you have the athleticism, the grades and the desire, it doesn’t matter which high school you go to. So we decided we would use the technology at our disposal to make sure that Steilacoom kids who can play at the collegiate level got that opportunity and we could put that idea to rest.”

Leiato by the numbers

593,000 Page views his highlight video on had gotten as of Friday night.

188 Tackles, 34.5 for losses, in three years as a varsity player.

So Garrow and Martin, both teachers at Pioneer Middle School in DuPont, created an email database of every college coach west of the Mississippi River at every level of football, along with most of their assistants, and started looking for them on Twitter.

By spring 2013, Steilacoom coaches thought senior-to-be Josh Lewis was someone who could play at the college level. So they e-mailed his highlight film in the fall and followed up with tweets and direct messages. Eastern Washington’s coaching staff watched Lewis’ film – they saw the link via a direct message on Twitter – and replied with a message of their own.

“They notified us that they wanted to offer him a scholarship,” Garrow said.

Ingrained work ethic

Leiato knows the meaning of the word hustle.

Last summer, Leiato spent his days outside doing yard work. He mowed lawns. He cleaned gutters. He cut shrubs, removing debris. Sometimes, he moved furniture. Then he took all the money he made from those odd jobs and hopped on a bus for a 14-hour trip to Montana State, arriving at 2 a.m. He spent the following day in pads working out at MSU’s football camp, paying his own way.

Later that afternoon, he caught another bus to Eastern Washington outside Spokane. He arrived at midnight and got some sleep before another football camp beckoned.

“Longest ride of my life,” Leiato said.

This hard-work mentality is something Leiato’s parents preach. His mom, Linetta, works a graveyard shift so she and her husband, Fotu I, who works a 9-to-5 job, can share time with their five kids equally.

“It’s hard work, but I think it makes the family stronger,” says Linetta, who was born in American Samoa but grew up in California.

“We’re very family-oriented, everybody watches out for each other,” says Leiato of his culture. “If you’re family, you look out for each other, you watch out for your sisters, always have respect for your parents, be humble in everything that you do.”

The payoff

Wyoming offered him first in early fall – then Montana, Montana State, Eastern Washington, Weber State and Idaho came calling. Some had seen Leiato play in person at camps, others had watched his up-to-date highlights from his coaches.

After Leiato’s season ended, assistant coach Kyle Haller reorganized Leiato’s video highlights to make sure the best ones went first.

“You knew there was a big hit coming every game,” Haller said. “You want to get the big ones out there to catch people’s attention.”

They posted it on Hudl — the video now has over 593,000 views — and sent out links via email, Twitter and Instagram.

“We didn’t think it would catch on at the rate that it did, but different recruiting sites started embedding it on their stories and it really started to gain traction,” says Erik Pulverenti, Hudl’s community general manager.

That’s when the big schools came calling. Washington State offered first, and then Oregon’s Mark Helfrich, UCLA’s Jim Mora, Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops reached out.

When Leiato decided on Oregon in early February, Helfrich and three assistant coaches were at his house for a barbecue.

“I learned a lot of really interesting things about recruiting with Fotu’s journey,” Koch said. “It was funny to see a school like Hawaii say they weren’t interested but then for the No. 2 team in the country to say they were.”

Leiato’s approach

The hard-hitting Leiato amassed 188 tackles, 34.5 for losses, in three years as a varsity player. As a 160-pound sophomore he was mixing it up with the seniors, something he wants to do as a freshman at Oregon.

“Most kids can’t coil their bodies and explode the way he can,” Garrow said. “He doesn’t power clean excessive numbers, he doesn’t squat 550, but he doesn’t miss on tackles.”

Leiato’s approach is simple.

“When the whistle blows, I’m thinking I have to let these guys know, let my adversaries know that I’m coming at them 100 percent,” he said.

“I have to let people know that this is how we do it at Steilacoom.”

Now they do.